One of the Nationals’ unspoken but most significant concerns of the winter is the status of Daniel Murphy, who had surgery on his right knee Oct. 20 that initially left the club unable to say for sure if the All-Star second baseman would be ready for the start of the 2018 season.
In the eight weeks since Murphy had the procedure - officially a debridement and microfracture surgery to repair articular cartilage - the Nationals have begun to get a clearer picture of his timetable for recovery. And at the moment, they’re expressing more confidence that he will be in the lineup come opening day (March 29 at Cincinnati).
“I think that his rehab is coming along very well,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “You’ll see him at WinterFest this coming weekend. He’s doing well. He’s progressing at a good rate. We still feel that our target date of opening day, he’ll be ready to play.”
Rizzo, manager Dave Martinez, reporters and fans alike will get a firsthand look at Murphy this weekend when he joins a host of teammates at the club’s annual winter fan fest. The 32-year-old has never been one to share much detail about his physical condition with the public, but if nothing else everyone will be able to see him and how he’s moving around nearly two months removed from surgery.
The procedure on Murphy, which was performed by Cincinnati orthopedist Timothy Kremchek, is quite uncommon for baseball players. The two most notable recent major leaguers to have microfracture surgery - which involves the creation of tiny fractures in the underlying bone beneath the articular cartilage, promoting the growth of new cartilage - were Justin Turner and Grady Sizemore.
Turner, who had the surgery in October 2015, played 151 games for the Dodgers in 2016 and finished ninth in the National League MVP race. Sizemore, who had the surgery in September 2012, missed the entire 2013 season and was never the same player in his final two seasons in the big leagues.
Basketball players Greg Oden and Chris Webber also saw their careers significantly hindered by microfracture knee surgery, but there have been advances in recent years and the Nationals believe they have a good idea what to expect in Murphy’s case.
“You have the comps and the past surgeries of other athletes,” Rizzo said. “And we’re kind of using that as our gauge.”
If Murphy isn’t ready for the start of the 2018 season, the Nationals appear to be comfortable using Wilmer Difo as their starting second baseman and don’t feel the need to pursue a more experienced backup option this winter.